Do Kids Need Back to School Eye Exams?

An ophthalmologist explains the process of tending to your child’s eyesight
Child taking eye test

Whether your kids are back to school in the classroom, out of the classroom or both, you’re probably knee-deep in calendars and shifting priorities as the new school year begins. But don’t forget about checking in on their health — especially their eyes.

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Pediatric ophthalmologist Allison Babiuch, MD, says that children should have their eyes screened annually, which is different from having a yearly exam with an eye doctor.

The short answer is no. Your child does not always need to have an eye exam before they head back to school.

“We rely on schools and the child’s primary care physician/pediatrician to conduct screenings and if an issue arises, that’s when they should be referred to an eye doctor for a thorough exam,” says Dr. Babiuch.

When do schools conduct eye screenings?

In most states, kids are screened during the following school years:

  • Preschool.
  • Kindergarten.
  • First grade.
  • Third grade.
  • Fifth grade.
  • Seventh grade.
  • Ninth grade.
  • 11th grade.

“If there’s a vision concern, a family history of eye disease or the child has certain systemic medical conditions, then they should have eye exams,” says Dr. Babiuch.

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What if you suspect an issue before a screening takes place?

It’s always important to look out for signs of vision trouble. The key is to try to stay aware of small behavioral changes. Dr. Babiuch says that signs that your child might be having visual problems might become more apparent when shifting away from the computer screen, or when the child’s classroom seat or structure of their learning environment changes from one year to the next. 

Ask your kids if they’re comfortable in the new classroom or in front of the screen. Watch for blinking, squinting and tearing when they’re at home. Ask about any headaches or fatigue.

“You can also pay attention to their reading development,” she says. Difficulty with reading in younger children can be an indication of vision problems, not necessarily learning disabilities.

If you notice crossed or wandering eyes or drooping of the eyelid, Dr. Babiuch recommends you should definitely have your child evaluated by an eye doctor. “These may indicate other eye problems that can affect their vision development, so you’ll want to rule those out with an exam,” she emphasizes.

Can kids wear contact lenses?

Your child may prefer to wear contacts over glasses, but there are some caveats when it comes to considering contact lenses as an option. She says kids who are 12 years and older can get them as long as they’re ready for the responsibility, but for the younger ones, the risks may outweigh the benefits.

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“Unfortunately, contact lens use can lead to severe eye infections, especially if you sleep in your lenses,” she says. Younger children may not have developed all of their best-practice habits quite yet. So for the younger kids, it’s best to wait until they’re older.

What if your child already has prescription glasses?

Children’s glasses prescriptions should be rechecked annually. Children’s eyes continue to grow and change until sometime in their teenage years. Dr. Babiuch also says if your child plays sports and wears prescription goggles, it’s a good idea to have that prescription checked, too. 

When they’re active, there tend to be many points of focus around them in their field of vision so it’s important their eyes are processing the ever-changing environment in the right way (on a team field, for example) — for their own safety. Especially they’re using gear, balls or other equipment.

“Remember when it comes to your child’s eyes, being proactive is important, Dr. Babiuch says. “Look out for signs of vision trouble, but there is usually no need to schedule an exam with an eye doctor unless school or primary care screenings come back with unfavorable results.”

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